Got A Problem? Go Online
For now, the ePsyClinic service is not an app but a website, and anyone with a problem ranging from a relationship on the rocks to a post-partum depression can go head and seek help. Not from an artificial intelligence solution like Eliza, but from real mental health professionals
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A few years ago, anyone would have been wary of heading to the web with emotional or mental problems. And quite rightly so. The frivolous personality quizzes and agony aunts columns on numerous sites of dubious repute could do more harm than good. Not that an agony aunt can’t sometimes knock common-sense into someone who needs it for
But today there are more serious attempts at bringing professional help to people in emotional distress and one of them is an online startup, called ePsyClinic, that founder and CEO Shipra Dawar claims is the only real online mental health clinic in India – or rather, a mental wellness clinic.
For now, the ePsyClinic service is not an app but a website, and anyone with a problem ranging from a relationship on the rocks to a post-partum depression can go head and seek help. Not from an artificial intelligence solution like Eliza, but from real mental health professionals.
As a help-seeker accesses the website, he or she will in fact first of all notice the line-up of photographs of doctors and other specialists. These include clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, specialists in learning problems, and even a gynecologist who helps women with pre or post partum depression. The team of professionals is quite large – and growing – and is the reason why ePsyClinic is able to offer round-the-clock help. Should one feel a spell of panic or intense anxiety coming on, an unbearable feeling of sadness, or extreme frustration with handling a problem and want to get help on impulse – press the tab to consult a psychologist at any time. The first 15 minutes of this interaction are free, after which it becomes a paid service, just as one would pay any doctors. “In those 15 minutes, the psychologist will quickly assess the nature of the problem,” says Shipra Dawar. “It could be some temporary situation a person can’t handle, or it can be an anxiety disorder, for example.
The psychologist will be able to either help immediately, or suggest a longer consultation to understand a more complex problem.”
The consultations can take place using the numerous tools available on ePsyClinic including chat, video, and assessment through questionnaires. “There are such a multitude of problems that different tools work at different times and situations,” says Dawar. “Even anxiety, if you look at it, is such an umbrella term. But it can include anything from a situational stress to something needing psychiatric intervention. That’s why both the number of consultations and the tools used will change with each person.”
Taking It Offline
For the immediately skeptical, the ePsyClinic team is fully aware, made up as it is of certified professionals, that there are often possibilities of physical or medical problems manifesting as a mental problem or indeed coinciding with it. When that is the case, a pure online consultation can of course be rather dangerous because critical symptoms can be missed for want of physical examination and medical tests. “That’s why we only go with the best of licensed professionals who will be able to tell when a problem needs to be tackled offline,” says Dawar. “We are the first ones to then get the client to get the right kind of help offline.” When a consultation reveals that the client is showing signs of a possible psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, recommendations are made to divert to the nearest offline alternative.
Better Than No Help
“More often than not, people don’t go straight to a psychiatrist or psychologist,” says Dawar, “It’s such a stigma to seek help for ‘mental’ problems that many just suffer whatever they’re going through. Also, there just aren’t enough mental health professionals to ensure that everyone does get help. Specially in remote areas.” Dawar describes a case where a young boy approaches ePsyClinic for help with his father who was in the deep interiors of Assam. The consultation was conducted by phone. “It was at least better than getting no help at all,” says Dawar.
Help for Others
One can also access the ePsyClinic portal for help for someone else, such by parents for their children or family members for their others in the family. Rather than using life coaches, the online clinic gets the team of psychologists to assist parents who are unable to understand or cope with problems they see in their children.
“ePsyClinic very much targets the care-giver too,” says Dawar, “For those who suffer mental health issues second hand. In fact, our very active Facebook page is full of psycho-educationmaterial we put out to help care-givers.”
As mentioned earlier, clients or help seekers, pay a reasonable fee for consultations after the initial interaction. Since the management for each problem is different, so is the fee, and the management plan is worked out along with the help seeker. The consulting team can work on two models – either they are hired full time and paid a salary, or in other cases, on part-time consultation and working with a fee-split.
ePsyClinic already has over 10,000 users since they began five months ago. On launch, ePsyClinic was promoted through a “virtual clinic” or booth set up at places like the Select CityWalk Mall in Delhi. Here, anyone who was interested could come up and privately undergo an online consultation with a psychiatrist or psychologist. ePsyClinic has also tied up with Shopper’s Stop which has booths in select locations in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Word of mouth from those who have used the service has been most helpful of all, according to Dawar.
ePsyClinic has been started with investment from its three founders who have put in a sum of approximately Rs 1.5 crores. External funding was not sought but at present talks are on with potential investors. ePsyClinic will launch its iOS app in December, followed by an app for Android. The apps will include a great deal of proprietary content that includes therapy training modules. “This high quality material which is both for diagnosis under these different circumstances and for imparting certain therapies, is what is going to set us apart from any potential competition,” says Dawar.
Shipra Dawar is clear that ePsyClinic has been visualised as a “wellness clinic” rather than an “illness clinic.” Its purpose is to nip a problem in the bud, not replace the management that must take place in a hospital structure. The idea is to be there when mental health professionals are absent and help approach the subsequent handling positively, ensuring that help comes in much earlier.